Vinny Testaverde was watching the start of the Aaron Rodgers Era up in a suite with Woody Johnson when the unthinkable happened to the Jets again.
Aaron Rodgers was down on the 30-yard line four plays into the start of the Aaron Rodgers Era holding his ankle and would be helped off the MetLife field, done for the night, and for no one knows how long.
“It brought back some bad memories,” Testaverde told The Post.
It brought back the bad memories of Opening Day 1999 when Testaverde crumpled to the turf with a ruptured Achilles attempting to recover a Curtis Martin fumble that ruptured a season Bill Parcells had earmarked for the first Jets championship since Jan. 12, 1969.
“Just kind of holding our breath after seeing him walk off the field very gingerly. … Hopefully, it’s not serious,” Testaverde said before the Jets staged an emotional 22-16 overtime comeback win over the Bills on a 65-yard Xavier Gipson punt return after Jordan Whitehead (3 INTS) and the Jets’ defense savaged Josh Allen.
But the injury was, and is, serious.
The Jets’ fear it is the dreaded Achilles.
Only moments earlier, Testaverde had stood with Rodgers as an honorary captain for the opening coin toss.
“Yeah, crazy night,” said Testaverde, managing a tiny chuckle of disbelief.
Testaverde was 35 when his Achilles went, 30 minutes from the Super Bowl the previous season before the John Elway Broncos broke his heart in Denver.
“There was a handoff to Curtis, and he went through the line of scrimmage,” Testaverde said. “There was a fumble, so I went to step forward to go get it. And when I stepped forward, I heard this popping sound. I kind of turned back to see who in the heck was behind me that I heard this noise coming from, and by the time I got halfway back, I realized it was my Achilles.
“And realized my season was over.
“It was a disappointing time. You put it in all that time and effort in the offseason after coming back from a close run to the Super Bowl and high expectations.”
The Forever Jets fan in him then said: “But hopefully, Aaron will be back.”
Hoping against hope.
Rodgers was not yet 16 years old and quarterbacking Pleasant Valley High (Calif.) on that fateful day, and he was 39 years old on what was supposed to be a celebratory Monday night when another Only the Jets moment sent a shudder through and hushed a shell-shocked crowd.
That forever long-suffering Jets crowd.
Hard Knocks for Aaron Rodgers.
Hard Knocks for the Jets.
Testaverde was never the same elite quarterback Parcells adored.
Testaverde was thrilled when The Trade brought Rodgers to his hometown team.
“Like all Jets fans,” Testaverde said, “I was very excited because they seemed to be just one piece away, one player away from going all the way and winning a Super Bowl. Obviously, every year it takes a little luck as far as not having that injury bug.”
Remember that old wives’ tale that Broadway Joe Namath had sold his soul to the devil for Super Bowl III?
This was the night the long-awaited Aaron Rodgers Era began with the Savior of the New York Jets running through the darkness of a sparkling MetLife Stadium, carrying the American flag following the rest of the starting lineup.
Until he was sacked by Bills predator Leonard Floyd.
Testaverde recalled playing cards with Wayne Chrebet on the ride to the hospital and thinking about the surgery that awaited him and an uncertain future.
“As far as the effort, it wasn’t difficult, it was just the mental part of it, just going through every day and just trying to come back as the same player if not better — that’s the hard part, just not knowing,” Testaverde said.
When he returned, Al Groh was the head coach because Parcells had decided to leave the sidelines and hand the torch to Bill Belichick, who lasted 24 hours as HC of the NYJ not long before aligning with Tom Brady in New England and tormenting the Jets with their six Lombardi Trophies together.
“I played for another seven, eight years, whatever it was after that,” Testaverde said.
He retired at 44 with the 2007 Panthers. “You learn to do things differently,” Testaverde said.
Parcells had put on a brave face the day Testaverde went down, but he knew — his quarterbacks would now be Rick Mirer and Ray Lucas following a cameo from Tom Tupa. The Jets would lose, 30-28, to the Patriots and finish 8-8.
Robert Saleh put on a brave face of his own after this night that began in heartbreak ended in fleeting jubilation. But he knows. He knows what the Rodgers update will be.
“It’s not good,” Saleh said.
And so it was, and is, Zach Wilson’s show again.
Testaverde had this message for the Jets fans:
“Don’t lose faith. If this defense can keep it together, keep us in games for a couple of more games and then this offense starts jelling, give Zach a chance to grow a little bit with this offense. … You just don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
Eight is enough sometimes.
Alas, not with the New York Jets, and not for the New York Jets.
Aaron Rodgers is back in the darkness, and he drags an entire season and franchise with him for as long as he is.